Monthly Archives: September 2009

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in Cambridge!

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Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn will be in Cambridge, MA on Monday, October 5 at 6:00 p.m.  They will discuss their new book Half the Sky at the Brattle Theater, 40 Brattle Street in Harvard Square.  The event is sponsored by the Harvard Bookstore.  Barakat will be in attendance to support this amazing cause!

Check out Sheryl WuDunn’s recent appearance on the Colbert Report where she discusses how giving women loans and educating girls is the way to lift developing nations out of poverty.

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Barakat recently entered the ‘Half the Sky’ Competition!

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New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, authors of Half the Sky, have created a competition for organizations involved in fighting global poverty and empowering women.  The ‘Half the Sky’ competition and Barakat’s submission can be found on Kristof’s blog entitled On the Ground.

 

Barakat’s entry is listed below:

To an outsider, the most striking thing about women in rural Uttar Pradesh, India, is how few of them there are. Men cram the narrow lanes, work the tarp-covered shops, and zoom around on motorcycles throughout Bhadohi– without a woman to be seen.

Until you enter a home, that is. There you will find women cooking, cleaning, and assiduously applying the ancient art of weaving to huge looms. Women wearing intricately embroidered saris wade knee-deep into rice paddies behind their homes. They seemingly do it all—except leave their homes.


I traveled to this north-central Indian province in July with my boyfriend Damon, who works for Barakat, Inc. Barakat funds two elementary schools here. I went along as an observer and volunteer, but I had the chance to interview some of these almost-invisible women.


Most of the women in Bhadohi have not been formally educated. To an outsider, they appear shunned from many parts of adult society. They are rarely seen in shops; they don’t work in restaurants; they almost always get around by walking only. Women’s irrelevance here is so ingrained that most shopkeepers utterly ignored my presence. When I pulled out the cash, they handed my boyfriend the change. Even the lone two shopkeepers who addressed me directly called me “sir.”


While these quotidian insults are not of life-destroying magnitude, they pile up to create an oppressive weight from under which Indian women cannot escape. Each individual woman is trapped in her own home, with a family she typically did not choose and circumstances she cannot alter. What makes this so outrageous is that not just an unlucky bunch of women meet this fate; nearly every rural woman in UP will live such a life.


We interviewed some of the parents who send their students to the free, public Barakat schools in Bhadohi. We asked them, Why do you think it’s important for girls to be educated? Both fathers and mothers gave the same answer: nowadays, it’s hard for an uneducated female to find a suitable husband. A good marriage brings both prestige and wealth– if it’s education men want, it’s education they get. And why, we asked, do men seek educated wives? The answer to this question, simple common knowledge to the villagers, nonetheless summed up years of research: educated women see to it that their children become educated, too. In other words, if a man wants his own children to be educated, he finds them an educated mom.


The rural people of Bhadohi are onto something: educating young girls earns them a desirable marriage in which they are valued participants; potential careers outside the home; and best of all, children who will be assured an education, too. Barakat’s two free schools in Bhadohi, which serve hundreds of children from impoverished carpet-weaving families, make special outreach efforts to enroll girls. This is not a band-aid solution. Systematically educating all the young women in Bhadohi will slowly but surely bring them out of the shadows—and protect future generations from that shadow, permanently.

Innovative Techniques to Support Girl’s Education

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“Women and girls aren’t the problem, they are the solution,” according to Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, authors of Half the Sky.  Aside from the human rights concerns associated with marginalizing women around the world, in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, where half the population is treated as third class citizens, economic growth is severely hindered and societies are caught in a seemingly never-ending cycle of poverty.

Despite the enormous amount of aid that developing countries receive each year, most of these countries still have devastatingly low economic growth rates, and very little improvement occurs in the level of poverty.   On the other hand, it has been found that certain aid—that which is given with a targeted purpose such as healthcare or education—has been extremely effective, particularly when it targets girls.  

One theory behind this phenomenon is the way in which women and men are socialized.  Women are taught to be caregivers and nurturers while men are driven to be the providers for their families.  This translates into a competitive mindset that encourages men to be focused on their own advancement and spend their income on individual needs.  Women, meanwhile, tend to be more community oriented, so when they have access to income they are many times more likely to reinvest it in the community by spending it on things such as health and education opportunities for their children.  Barakat, along with a variety of other nongovernmental organizations, has recognized this untapped resource and works to empower women as a means to enable communities to shape their own future through education.

Despite the growing research on the importance of female empowerment and the potential role that women can play in breaking the cycle of poverty, 70% of the 77 million children globally who were out of school in 2004 are girls.  According to the UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia, 11.5 million girls are out of school in this region of the world, compared with just five million boys.  The United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, the World Bank, and the United States Council on Foreign Relations have pinpointed five specific ways to increase enrollment, decrease dropout rates and improve performance for girls in schools worldwide:

1.  Closer proximity of schools to girls’ homes

2.  Greater community involvement to boost success rates and enrollment

3. Availability of water and sanitation

4. Food rations to increase enrollment

5.  Incentives and scholarships

Barakat’s mission to strengthen the fundamental human rights to education in South and Central Asia focuses specifically on three of these methods—1, 2 and 5—in order to change the lives of women and girls through education.

1 and 2: The location of schools and lack of safe transport are obstacles that discourage parents from enrolling their daughters in school.  The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission found that 51.6% of parents cited security and accessibility as the main reason they were hesitant to send their girls to school. Cultural concerns such as preservation of a girl’s honor is a major issue for parents and serves as a deterrent to enrolling girls in schools.

In response, Barakat has introduced literacy courses that are held in the home of a family in the neighborhood.  The host family provides a safe and secure atmosphere for girls to focus on their studies without their parents worrying about their safety.  As an incentive, Barakat provides host families with rent and cleaning funds to ensure that the literacy courses continue to run.  The course curriculum mirrors that of government schools so that the students in our literacy courses receive the same education that students in formal schools receive.

In Pakistan, where Afghan refugees are even more conservative and wary of sending their daughters to school in a foreign country, Barakat offers evening schools specifically for girls that are staffed by female teachers.

5. There has been increasing research on the effectiveness of scholarship programs as incentives for girls to achieve greater educational gains.  According to the Scientific Evaluation for Global Action (SEGA), performance incentives had a far greater impact than book donations, class size, and other factors.  The study found that girls who were eligible for a scholarship showed significant gains in exam scores, attendance increased, and self-confidence was greatly improved.  

Barakat began a scholarship program in April 2008 called Taqaza-e-Dukhtaran.  The scholarship enables self-motivated teenage girls and young women with limited financial means to continue their education.  In addition to paying for their education, Barakat offers the families of these young women a stipend to make up for the potential loss of labor that would occur while the girl is not contributing the family’s income.  In this way, families become much more likely to support sending their daughters to school.  

Barakat makes education accessible for girls so that they can be financially empowered, ensure sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their families, and contribute to ending the cycle of poverty in their communities.


Get To Know the Barakat Staff: Cortney Gusick

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Name: Cortney Gusick

Hometown: Kapolei, HI

School: Brandeis University, Graduate Student

What You Do At Barakat:  Program Assistant

Fun Fact About Yourself:  

“I’m an amazing tree climber/fruit forager.” “I’ve never had a Facebook account.”
“I’m currently writing a book, and I love the radio program, ‘This American Life”

 What Have You Learned working at Barakat?

“That unified, dynamic, and diverse people are an excellent recipe for growth and development.”

Favorite Quote: 

“Let Your vision be world-embracing, rather than confined to your own self.” -Baha’u’ llah

Heroes: Naseem Alizadeh, Luc and Sophie Pardehpoosh, Troy & Shauna.

Your suddenly stranded on a desert island but naturally you get to bring your five favorite things.  They are:

Baha’i Books, paper, pens, polaroid camera, black licorice.

Most Desired Superpower:

“That’s easy: Self-multiplication.”

Contribute to Barakat through Ebay!

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Thanks to MissionFish.org, sellers on Ebay can contribute a portion of their sale to Barakat!

Heres how it works: When you log into Ebay to sell an item the seller form contains an option to choose to contribute to a non-profit organization.  Click on Barakat, Inc and you are all set!

How great is that?

You can fund education for women and children just by using Ebay!

An Afghan’s Opinion on the Election

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We asked a local Afghan, Abdullah, who works for our partner Barakat Afghanistan about the feelings and sentiments of local Afghans about the election on the 20th of August.  Abdullah is a vital source for Barakat because he works on the ground in Afghanistan and speaks English, and so remains in constant contact with the Cambridge office.  

Many of his responses correlated with those from major news sources, but since Abdullah works in the North region of Faryab, some of his responses provided some new light on opinion of the election:

 

1: Is there much interest in the community about the election?

ANS:  Majority of people in Afghanistan were interested in this year election, but it was less than last election.

 

2: Is there a popular candidate in Faryab and Jowzjan?

ANS: No, none of the famous people from Jowzjan or Faryaab are candidates in this election, only a female candidate here for this year election who was a teacher in a governmental school in Jowzjan.

 

3: What is the general opinion of the Karzai administration?

ANS: A Majority people of Afghanistan say that the administration of Karzai was so weak, but after all most of the people again selected him for this year’s presidential election.

 

4: Are many women likely to participate in the election?

ANS: In this year election many women participated, but just in the safe areas because in the areas where the situation was not good the number of participants were less.

 

5: Is there any worry about a “fixed” or corrupt election?

ANS: Yes people and most of the candidates are not looking happy and satisfied, they say that the election was fixed and corrupt and want the election to redone.

 

6: Do you think there could be uprising and protest following the election similar to Iran?

ANS: No, we don’t not want to follow the way Iran did because we have many peaceful ways of solving any problems.

 

7: What kind of policy changes in education and women’s rights would you like to see with a new administration?

ANS: We want to have new occupational courses for our elder men and women, vital literacy schools in every corner of a village, and some positive and modern changes in the ways of teaching in our schools and universities and the government must hire women for different jobs in different government agencies and never let their rights be trampled.

 

8: Will the Taliban be a hindrance to the voting process in Faryab or Jowazjan?

ANS:  Faryab and Jowazjan are safer than other provinces, but in the remote districts Taliban told people to not participate in election but in the end we were not witness to any incident during this election in Jowzjan or Faryab.

 

It is very interesting to compare Abdullah’s comments with the news stories that are being reported from Afghanistan.  We are constanty bombarded with negative news surrounding the election, but Abdullah brings some positives from the election, and gives us a better idea of what people in Afghanistan are feeling regarding this election.